Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Atheism As A Maladaptation: Your Provocative Idea for Tuesday (A day late)

In order to avoid getting stuck in a rut, I like to listen to heretics of many different kinds and yesterday night I listened to one of my favorites, the eminent biologist, eminently mild mannered, reasonable and rational man and widely hated heretic of old-fashioned materialist scientism, Rupert Sheldrake,  On Rediscovering God.   In the course of the question session, he said something pretty interesting, though not entirely unknown.

In the end it (atheism) is bad for your health. Studies have shown in the United States that people who have religious belief or practice live longer and are healthier and recover from diseases better than those who don't. For white males it's about five years, for black men it's about fifteen years extension of life. If any pill were known to do that it would be hailed as a medical breakthrough.

Given how many atheists get into a lather over anyone who expresses skepticism about even some of the more dangerous and unproven treatments of medical science and how ready they are to slam anyone who is ready to try even the most obviously innocuous practice of alternative medicine, they, themselves, seem to be actively undermining a far more impressively proven health benefit,  For many atheists of CSI(COP) and the competition, such as Michael Shirmer, such stuff is a major part of their reason for being .... loud and obnoxiously bossy to people who never asked for them to stick their nose into their business. 

And, perhaps in a highly related phenomeon, atheists would seem to embody the very definition of evolutionary maladaptation, leaving fewer offspring than those who believe in God, likely not even achieving replacement levels of reproduction.

It's not only that religious people tend (on average) to have far "more" children than their non-religious peers - it's also about that ominous fact that we do not know about a single non-religious group or population that managed to retain at least the reproductive replacement level for just a century. There have been numerous attempts since Greek and Indian antiquity, not to speak about those late Western cultures and countries - but up to now, there has not been a single demographic success on the communal level.

Now that I've presented the argument for atheism being maladaptive, certainly a very strong indication that there's something wrong with the idea, it's important to establish that I don't really classify atheism as a biological maladaptation.  I have good reasons to believe it isn't, though I don't see how many of the most popular atheists, especially those who work in and around evolutionary biology could hold that it is anything but one.   That's especially true of those who have pushed the idea that religious belief is a biological trait, as Sheldrake mentions. Dawkins, Dennett, even a lot of those with an even more tenuous attachment to actual science are the ones who put the question into that rather artificial form of categorization.

Atheism isn't like some genetic illness that leads to people dying before they reach reproductive maturity or reduce reproductive potential.   I don't for one second believe that there is any such thing as a genetic foundation for religious belief or a belief in atheism,  you can go from one to the other without any mutation in any gene leading to that.  Given the somewhat popular line some atheists regurgitate, that all people are born atheists, you would think they could take the tiny intellectual baby step to the conclusion that the fact most people become religious precludes a genetic explanation.  Though such a minor intellectual achievement would seem to be beyond the reach of even some of what are generally considered to be among the most sophisticated atheist intellectuals we have around today.

Considering their use of Charles Darwin in their promotional propaganda, it is a rather wonderful irony that their hero also provides the means to identify atheism as a maladaptive habit of thought, one that, if widely adopted, could be expected to lead to the extinction of any group, nation or species which adopted it.  As I said I wouldn't do so but, then, I'm rather skeptical about natural selection being a real thing of the type which sets up that form of categorization.  I certainly don't see how natural selection can be relevant to the question, though I'd certainly be open to having an explanation of how it could be from someone more competent to do so than Dawkins or Dennett.  I'd love to talk to Rupert Sheldrake about that.   You're more likely to get a polite and well reasoned explanation of his thoughts on the matter, with little danger of being ridiculed. Ridicule is such a dead give-away of a shaky intellectual position.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the Sheldrake link. I'm intrigued by his thesis that atheists are trying to reinvent religion by genetics, such as having a "gene for credulity."

    Which isn't at all removed from William James' observation that religion is not merely "believin' what you know ain't so." I like the reference to de Botton, too (I'm listening as I type; can you tell?).

    I want to listen to it and then come back to your post.